My son who lives in a small rural town came to visit me in the city yesterday. He expressed an open disdain for the noise and commotion of urban life. Beeping vehicles and diesel motors and speakers from the green line blaring scheduled routes across the airwaves. People crisscrossing everywhere. Flapping birds leaving shit on the sidewalk. Trash on the park bench. A human being sleeping against a brick wall.
Granted, my son might have had a strong need for coffee, but for the first time, I felt territorial. I wanted to protect my idea of my own current home.
I waved his commentary away and bared down into my own pride.
We slipped inside to the privacy and control of my apartment.
Later that evening, hours after he had left, I walked along the street alone, heading home from a local venue.
It had just stopped raining and it felt peaceful. Sweet and safe. I had only a few blocks to go. The street was glistening with rain water. A lot of grit had been washed away. And I thought about how I could not bring him back to see this now. Only I would know the beauty of this gentler side of the city. The green leaves against the soft sky. All the people seemed to have gone somewhere else. The cars moved slowly now.
It doesn’t matter where I am. I can deflect the madness of the city’s burning fuse. I can absorb the gorgeous microscopic moments of the human race. I can just be here and know that I have everything I need within me to live. The universe will provide.
I do this thing when I walk in the city. It is something you are never supposed to do. I look people in the eye. I don’t smile. I just look. I know it is a risk. I know it can come back to bite me, and it has. More than once a stranger will rage, “What are you looking at?” Sometimes rare predators will think it is an invitation for the kill. Then I have to become ice and stone.
But my daring effort is only a glance. Half a second. To see if they are looking back. To see if they can tell I am just a soul who wants to know another soul. To see if they can tell that I am here on this earth and one day we will all surely die.
Most people don’t return my glance. Most people don’t look up at all. But every now and then, a person like me will catch the split moment and smile a little. Just the smallest glimpse of a lift on one side of their lips. Then some part of me knows that the world is still good. I cling to the memory of a past I once held loosely, when the world was safe and strangers said hello. After all, we don’t have that much time here. We are only puppets for the gods.